Friday 23 February 2018

Frantic pratfalls and pie gags – each less amusing than the last

John Boland

Jason Byrne can be a very funny man and I've laughed out loud at some of his stand-up routines about the exasperations and idiocies of family life, so it was with dismay that I sat through his first venture into sitcomland.

The put-upon dad he portrays in Father Figure (RTÉ One/BBC One) should have been right up his comedic street and for the first couple of minutes I chuckled as an exploding can of beans and a collapsing fence caused him all sorts of indignities in the back garden of his suburban London home, where stuffy neighbours looked on aghast at the antics of this demented Dub.

This was unabashed slapstick stuff and none the worse for that, but Byrne, who created and scripted the show, had no other ideas up his sleeve and within minutes the action had degenerated into a succession of increasingly frantic pratfalls and custard-pie gags, each of them less amusing than the one that had gone before.

Part of the problem was that the characters with whom Byrne surrounded his central character made no dramatic sense – a sardonic English wife who guzzled so much wine that she didn't care what went on around her; an unbelievably interfering Irish mammy played by a screeching Pauline McLynn; and a guy with a Northern accent who wandered around the house for reasons that remained mysterious to this viewer.

And there was no script to speak of, which was a shame given that, in his stand-up persona, Byrne has shown himself to be a beady-eyed observer of human behaviour with the linguistic skills to make these observations both pointed and very amusing.

Perhaps this sitcom will get better as it goes along, but on the evidence of this chaotically unfunny first instalment it makes Mrs Brown's Boys seem a model of coherence, restraint and wit.

Indeed, the only thing to be said in its favour was that it was no worse than the other two comedies inflicted on us by RTÉ Two the same night. Damo and Ivor, created by Andy Quirke and starring Quirke as the two main characters, posited the notion that a set of twins who were drunkenly conceived in the toilet of a bar during Italia '90 were separated at birth and went on to have very different upbringings.

Damo has turned into a northside car-stealing skanger with a granny who's a part-time prostitute, while Ivor's a privileged southsider who throws a hissy fit when pinstripe-suited dad only gives him €10,000 to spend on a day at the races. In other words, think grubby Michael McElhatton in Paths to Freedom, and think perennial posh twit Ross Carroll O'Kelly.

And the script does nothing new or even vaguely interesting with these jaded stereotypes. It certainly does nothing amusing, unless you think it a hoot that an irate Damo can ask his granny "Have you been suckin' mickeys for money?" or that Ivor's response to one of his bedmates who can't find her knickers is "You weren't wearing any last night" – a riposte deemed so hilarious that it's delivered again less than a minute later.

And I remained stony-faced throughout The Mario Rosenstock Show, which had passable mimickry but no satirical bite and no laughs, either. There were laboured gibes at Pat Kenny, whose defection to Newstalk has clearly made him fair game for derision, but these weren't even accurate – labelling him as a pretentious poseur who loftily explains arcane words for the benefit of "the average layman on the street" was a sneer that simply wasn't true about the former RTÉ presenter, who displays no such condescension to his listeners.

Rosenstock also offered an incomprehensible Giovanni Trapattoni, a screeching Joan Burton, a preening Aengus Mac Grianna, a fluttering Francis Brennan and a gushing Miriam O'Callaghan, but he didn't offer anything beyond these already much parodied character traits.

RTÉ Two has also acquired the rights to Under the Dome, a Stephen King tale about a transparent canopy that suddenly descends on a rural American town and isolates it from the world outside. There was the startling sight of a cow being bisected by this mysterious device and there was an arresting shot of a lorry crashing concertina-fashion into the invisible barrier, but the characters in the opening episodes seemed to be a stock assortment of baddies and goodies with no intriguing quirks of personality.

And I've an awful suspicion that in future episodes we'll be treated to a lot of paranormal mumbo jumbo along the lines of Lost, which only succeeded in losing lots of viewers.

Indeed, if you want outstanding American drama, look no further than TG4, which had the foresight to snap up Breaking Bad a couple of years back and has now made some other first-rate acquisitions. Nashville isn't the best of these but it's pretty good all the same, while upcoming on the same channel are the excellent Danish political drama, Borgen, and the Chicago-based Boss, which has a ferociously good Kelsey Grammer as the malevolent mayor of the title.

And then there's Justified, which has just started and which has a compelling performance by Timothy Olyphant as US marshal Raylan Givens in a quirky spin-off from a Kentucky-based Elmore Leonard story. Excellent stuff.

Irish Independent

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